February 26, 2015

Build more charter schools. Abolish school boards. Give teachers better tools. When it comes to the U.S. education system, everyone’s got an opinion.

But some of those opinions might carry more weight than others – namely those that belong to philanthropists with lots of cash to support their views. Bill Gates and his foundation, as well as the Walton family – heirs to the Walmart fortune – have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to various educational groups and initiatives.

From donations to the Center for Urban Teaching and various charter schools to digital tools for students, private foundations and individuals have worked to keep our educational system competitive. 

But all those resources might not translate into a smarter, more educated group of American kids.
“Over the last 30 years, we’ve seen more and more public dollars and private dollars going to supporting education and it does not necessarily translate immediately to better results,” says Elizabeth Green, the author of Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone).
Green points to donors’ conflicting agendas – and the complexities of state and federal policies – as a major problem. Different people and groups all have different ideas about the best things to do to fix education.

“All of this money may be coming in, but through all these different channels that have a different goal and because they’re not coordinated, that makes the resources less effective," she adds.
The influx of private money has also spurred debate over whether big donors will start having undue influence over content. Bill Gates, for example, personally had a hand in developing a new high school course – Big History – that was offered in 1,200 schools last fall.

Regardless of whether the money comes from public or private sources, the bigger question is: How can the system improve the efficiency of these dollars in order to compete globally?
“The countries that have outperformed us internationally…are much more centralized and that allows them to, in a lot of ways, make decisions that many of the people on the ground in our system – the teachers, the educators – wish we would make here.”

Education, Chalkbeat, Elizabeth Green, philanthropy

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